Shoplifters target designer clothes from charity shops

Oxfam loses £3,500 watch, Fara a £500 Moschino dress: thefts rise by a fifth in two years

Charity shops are experiencing an alarming rise in thefts because they are seen as a "soft target". Expensive donated designer clothes are prime targets for shoplifters.

Nationwide, there has been a 20 per cent increase in thefts over the past two years, up from an estimated £4.25m to £5.1m in 2011, according to a new study. The rise compares with a 14 per cent increase in shoplifting in commercial stores.

Professor Joshua Bamfield, director of the Centre for Retail Research in Nottingham, who conducted the study, said: "Charities accept there is a problem, but feel it is a 'dirty secret' they don't want to talk about, as it may affect people's willingness to donate. Charities, like everybody else, like to talk about good news.

"Charities are very heavily run by volunteers, and there is a feeling they may be crossing the line if they expect volunteers to confront shoplifters. They do not want to demoralise, nor divert funds from the causes they support."

That affects investment in anti-theft precautions. Sarah Thomas, at the Octavia Foundation, said: "Shoplifting is a problem. But we have to keep focused on making money for the charity – we can't spend significant amounts on CCTV and tagging systems."

The increase in thefts is also driven by the vogue for vintage fashion. An original Chanel bag or Yves Saint Laurent dress innocuously hanging in a charity shop has big resale value. "Vintage fashion has increased in popularity, and it can be almost impossible to prove that second- and third-hand goods are stolen," said Professor Bamfield, author of Shopping and Crime. "The internet site eBay is very careful to try not to sell stolen goods, but it is an important way for people to dispose of their stolen merchandise."

The Centre for Retail Research visited 150 charity shops nationwide, and received information from 50 charities. At the Octavia Foundation shop in Kensington, west London, the manager Christina Rosa is resigned to daily thefts. A Barbour jacket worth £90 was stolen from the store, while a charity shop near by lost a pair of £350 Prada boots. One Oxfam manager said its London stores had lost a designer watch valued at £3,500 to thieves. "Shoplifters go for designer labels, such as Ralph Lauren," Ms Rosa said. "We have to staple clothes to the mannequins, and display only one shoe from a pair."

Emma Ashby, at Fara charity shop, South Kensington, which donates profits to orphaned children in Romania, recently had a £500 Moschino dress stolen. "It is getting worse – because of the state of the economy people are becoming more desperate," she said.

At Living and Giving, in Primrose Hill, north London, which raises money for Save the Children, an Ossie Clark dress was stolen from the window display. The former television presenter Gail Porter, who volunteers in the shop, has appealed for its return. "Maybe I am naive, but I really didn't think people had it in them to steal from a charity," she said.

Charities are trying to make it harder for thieves. One volunteer at Oxfam's store in Jesmond, Newcastle, said: "We lock items for £40 upwards in glass cabinets, or keep them next to us." Adrian Gardener, manager of a Barnardo's store in Birmingham, said: "It's usually clothes that are stolen. We have cameras and staff who are vigilant, but it's very, very difficult. A lot of the time, it's people who have nothing, and they're not trying to do it to make money."

Charities urge people to continue to donate their cast-offs because the money raised is crucial to their work. Chris Coe, director of retail at Save the Children, said: "Sadly, there are rare incidents when items have been stolen from the shop floor. This action takes away life-saving help for the most vulnerable children across the world and is deeply saddening."

Suggested Topics
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

Edinburgh Fringe 2014

The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried